On their behalf Prospect says insufficient core funding and uncertainty over future funding are putting the critical mass of scientific expertise in Welsh research establishments at risk.
Gareth Howells, Negotiations Officer for Wales, said: “Expenditure by the Welsh Assembly Government on science, engineering and technology has fallen by over 70% in real terms in the last ten years.
"The combined effects of insufficient core funding and uncertainty over future funding streams, plus the current drive for current spending cuts, is putting the critical mass of scientific expertise in Welsh research establishments at risk. Experience shows that once lost this will not be regained.
“Professor John Harries, Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales, is championing collaboration between university, government and industrial laboratories as a means to increase this ‘critical mass’. But the reality is academics work on whatever projects they can get funded.”
In addition, Prospect argues that the situation in Wales, where the first President of the Learned Society of Wales estimates the higher education funding gap between Scotland and Wales grew to £900m over the past decade, is even more challenging.
“It is more difficult for universities to take on the long-term work of research council institutes since they depend on publication in high profile journals and time-limited responsive mode grants. Neither is it their role to focus on research that informs policy-making.”
Howells is writing to the leaders of the main Welsh political parties to seek their commitment to the union’s ten point plan. Ten steps, one giant leap: Prospect’s manifesto for Science in Wales – says politicians must:
- recognise the crucial role played by science for the public good
- provide adequate funds to invest in long-term research and infrastructure
- recognise the distinct needs and contributions of the university sector and public sector research establishments
- encourage and incentivise investment in priority sectors
- resist cost-driven lab closures and privatisation
- enhance investment in STEM skills at all levels
- safeguard the skills base and provide decent pay and careers for staff
- appoint a Cabinet Minister with cross-cutting authority and accountability for public sector science
- commit to open decision-making and proper consultation with stakeholders, including union representatives
- remove barriers to immigration from non-EU countries.
A Welsh language version is available from: http://library.prospect.org.uk/id/2011/00457